Last Ragged Breath – Julia Keller


Last Ragged Breath was published by Headline on 13 August 2015 and is available to buy here

Karin Slaughter has called Julia Keller ‘a rare talent’ and Dennis Lehane has praised her ‘remarkable writing’. Now Bell Elkins returns.

His body was found mutilated on the outskirts of the town he was there to help. Who killed him and why?

A high-end resort being built on the outskirts of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, a town desperate for jobs and prosperity, should have been welcome. But following the Buffalo Creek disaster of 1972, where a coal company’s mistake tragically claimed the lives of many Raythune County’s citizens, opinions and tensions are running high.

When Ed Hackel, Mountain Magic’s marketing manager, is found brutally murdered, suspicion quickly falls on Royce Dillard. An acknowledged loner orphaned by the disaster, Dillard had made his opposition clear by refusing to sell a parcel of his land deemed critical by the developers for access to the resort.
With all evidence pointing to Dillard, Bell Elkins, the County’s prosecuting attorney, feels she has no choice but to charge him. When a person dies his last ragged breath always tells the truth — but is the truth always what it seems to be?


Previously in the series

A Killing in the Hills – Book 1

Bitter River – Book 2

Summer of the Dead – Book 3

The Devil’s Step Daughter – Short Story

A Haunting of the Bones – Novella

Ghost Roll – Short Story


My thoughts

I am back in small town USA with Bell Elkins, prosecuting attorney. Last Ragged Breath is the fourth novel in the acclaimed legal series by Julia Keller.

This is a series that has to be read in order, to be fully appreciated. Slowly over the course of the books, we get to know and love Bell Elkins. Bell has a complicated history. She comes from a background of poverty and abuse. Her mother disappeared, when she was a child. Her father was killed by her sister. She was brought up in the care system. She has worked hard to gain an education, supported by her mentor and best friend Sheriff Nick Fogelsong. Nick has been a kind of father figure to her, since she was ten years old. In the background, we have the setting of Acker’s Gap. This is a town, that was once thriving and offered many opportunities for employment. Like many other places globally, it has never recovered from the decline in the mining industry.

A body is found on some land belonging to Royce Dillard. It looks like a very cut and dried case. The man who has been murdered was part of a company looking to exploit the local area and create an exclusive hotel. It appears that Royce, a loner and oddball, murdered the man after being continually hounded. The company was determined at all costs to get that land. Everyone thinks Royce is the killer. The question for Bell the prosecuting attorney is why? What is the real story behind this? Is Royce really capable of murder? Royce has a rather fascinating background. As a small child, he was a survivor of a horrific flood that killed his parents in 1972. It has left its mark on him.

We also see things are tough personally for Bell. Her former boyfriend is long gone. She is lonely. Her best friend and mentor, Nick has retired from his post as sheriff and is now working in security. As usual, Bell is not very good at communicating her anger. Instead of yelling at Nick, she goes silent and chooses to distance herself. We see that Bell needs time to deal with the loss of Nick professionally, from her life. She is used to discussing cases with him and sharing the load.

This is exceptional. Every word is beautifully drawn. We get loss and hardship. Poverty and small town living. Another piece in the jigsaw, to help us understand Bell that little bit more. A cunning twist. I really recommend this series, as one worth reading and just taking to your heart.


About Northern Crime

Reviewer with a mind of her own. This is a collection of book reviews, which started in 2014. Mostly crime and odd other genres thrown in. Some I loved. Some I loathed. You get the picture.
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